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Big Brands & Facebook

I’m at the Graphing Social Patterns conference in San Jose for the next two days. I’ll covering the event for Read/WriteWeb and doing a few interviews on Read/WriteTalk.

This morning Charlene Li from Forrester Research gave a presentation entitled ‘Big Brands & Facebook: Marketing Case Studies & Best Practices.’ The theme that she came back to a few times was: Facebook marketing requires communication not advertising.

Assuming that advertising means ‘interruption’, I think anyone who has been using Facebook for anytime would agree with that assumption. Some of the implications around best practices were quite interesting, so in this post we’ll explore those.

What Are Traditional Advertising Options on Facebook

Charlene’s goal was to encourage the audience and advertisers (who didn’t seem to be many in the audience) to think beyond traditional advertising. She started by establishing different appraoches to advertising on the Facebook platform. Specifically she outlined three approaches to buying advertising on Facebook:

  • You can purchase IAB standard ad units. As has been the case since August 2006, Microsoft handles the sale of these advertisements.
  • Another option is buying targeted messages to be placed in Facebook news feeds. According to data Charlene has received from Facebook, the click through rates on these ads are between 4 and 26 percent. While that is certainly a big range, the performance is impressive and actually closer to search advertising click through than I would have guessed.
  • Finally, any user can create purchase Facebook Flyers, which are totally self service advertisements.

How do you communicate not advertise?

Going back to Charlene’s opening theme of communicating and not advertising, she revisited the statement and started exploring effective ways to communicate. She specifically talked about Sponsored Groups. For clarification, while anyone can create a Facebook Group, the sponsored groups provide additional functionality including:

  • Group page provides customized navigation, look & feel.
  • Going back to the more traditional advertising, this usually includes a significant media buy to drive traffic to the sponsored group page.

As an example, the screen shot below is the Jeep Sponsored Group on Facebook.

Sponsored Group Best Practices

Charlene laid out five best practices for sponsored groups:

  • understand how similar groups meet / don’t meet the needs already
  • crate a unique experience that really is engaging people
  • enable discussion board, the wall, photos, etc …
  • read and respond to comments
  • be transparent about your role & perspective

Brands That Can’t Afford Sponsored Groups

For perspective, while this is certainly a compelling way to communicate with users, it’s important to realize that only large brands and companies are able to afford creating sponsored groups. According to Charlene, the costs are usually in the six figures for a three month engagement. However, any company can setup a traditional group for no cost at all. For example, here is a link to the Read/WriteWeb Facebook Group.

Branded Applications

Charlene also touched on branded applications, although in her opinion there weren’t any good case studies yet. Someone in the audience asked: “What is a good example of a facebook app that is true to its brand?” Charlene answered: “None, I keep waiting but there is a long way to go.”


It was repeated a number of times today that it’s the ‘Summer of Facebook’ (see Dan Farber’s post). As the community continues to discuss new opportunities for building on top of the social platform of Facebook, it’s important to realize that involving big brands will be crucial. Hopefully, some of these best practices will be helpful for not just the brands looking to engage, but also all of the developers looking to build those experiences.

Note: Charlene Li photo credit B D Solis Flickr

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